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ICANN finally cans Net 4 India

iCANN has terminated Net 4 India’s registrar accreditation, after many months of criticism and foot-dragging and a recent sharp uptick in customer complaints.

The move comes after an unprecedented four concurrent public breach notices over 20 months, almost four years after the company entered insolvency proceedings — grounds for termination which ICANN became aware of almost two years ago.

ICANN has received over 2,600 customer complaints over the last year, and almost 1,000 of these were submitted in February alone, according to the organization.

“The termination of the RAA is due to Net 4 India’s repeated and consistent breaches of the RAA and failure to cure such breaches despite multiple notices from ICANN and opportunity to cure,” ICANN said in its ginormous 59-page execution warrant (pdf).

Among the charges ICANN levels at Net4 is its failure to operate a functioning Whois service, something it’s warned the company about 30 times since November.

This hindered ICANN’s ability to investigate the more serious charges — that Net4 transferred some of its customers’ domains to a different registrar, OpenProvider, without their knowledge or consent, in violation of ICANN transfer policies.

The registrar also failed to enable its customers to renew their expired domains or transfer them to other registrars, also in violation of binding policy, ICANN said.

ICANN said:

Currently, more than 400 cases remain unresolved; and hundreds of complaints are still under review, which, once vetted, will become more new cases. In addition, ICANN Contractual Compliance continues to receive more than 20 new complaints each day. And it is not known how many more complaints are pending with Net 4 India that have not yet been brought to ICANN’s attention.

The termination notice contains 10 pages of complaints from Net4 customers, saying their domains could not be renewed or transferred. Some came from non-profits and hospitals. One registrant said he was contemplating suicide.

Net4’s customer service was non-responsive in each of these cases, the complainants said.

While some of Net4’s problems could be chalked down to coronavirus-related restrictions, the company has been in trouble for much longer.

It entered insolvency proceedings in 2017 after a debt recovery company called Edelweiss bought roughly $28 million of unpaid debt from the State Bank of India and took Net4 to court.

ICANN did not find out about this until April 2019 — it’s probably not a coincidence that this was the same month Net4 was late paying its first ICANN invoice — and it issued its first public breach notice in June that year.

Insolvency is grounds for termination in itself under the Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

It’s never been clearly stated why ICANN did not escalate at that time. Had it done so, it could have saved Net4’s customers from a world of hurt.

The Indian insolvency court admitted last month that it had no jurisdiction over ICANN or the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, both of which are governed primarily by California law.

Nevertheless, the court asked ICANN to not terminate Net4’s contract until after April 25, to give the company time to get its house in order.

But the termination notice, issued on Friday, will see the RAA cut off March 13. ICANN notes that it hasn’t heard from the court-appointed resolution professional, to whom previous breach notices were addressed, since mid-January.

Affected domains — there are still thousands under Net4’s accreditation — will be moved to another registrar under ICANN’s De-Accredited Registrar Transition Procedure.

Net4 could have a say in where its domains wind up. It’s already an OpenProvider reseller so that’s a possibility. Otherwise, ICANN will pick a beneficiary from a queue of qualified candidates.

ICANN throws the book at Net4 over dodgy transfer claims

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2020, Domain Registrars

Struggling Indian registrar Net 4 India has been slammed with a massive breach notice by ICANN, following claims of domain transfers failing or happening without the consent of the registrant.

ICANN also accuses the company, which is or was India’s largest independent registrar, of trying to bullshit its compliance staff about whether expired domains had been renewed or not.

According to ICANN, Net4 is in breach of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement on four counts, three of which relate to domain ownership records.

ICANN says the company isn’t operating a Whois service on the web or port 43, has failed to escrow its registration data on two recent occasions, and has failed to hand over registrant information upon ICANN’s request.

It’s also past due with its fees, ICANN says.

ICANN’s been dealing with complaints about Net4 for months, after the company’s customer service system appeared to break down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of customers have said their domains were unrenewable and that they were unable to transfer to another registrar.

In the latest breach notice — the first published breach notice against any registrar since February — ICANN names almost 200 domain names that have allegedly been held hostage at Net4, despite the registrant’s efforts to transfer out.

ICANN wants proof that registrants were given transfer authorization codes and that their domains were unlocked.

In a smaller number of cases, ICANN wants proof that domains were transferred to Net4 partner Openprovider, for which it acts as a reseller, with the consent of the registrants.

It also claims that Net4 has more than once tried to prove that a registrant renewed their expired name by supplying the registry’s expiration date instead of its own, to blag its way out of accusations that registrants were unable to renew.

ICANN also accuses the registrar of dragging its feet to address complaints:

Over the past few months, the number of complaints ICANN Contractual Compliance has received from [registered name holders], and authorized representatives, asserting that Net 4 India is exhibiting a pattern of non-response to domain transfer and renewal requests has steadily increased. While addressing the relevant compliance cases, Net 4 India’s responses to ICANN Contractual Compliance have also regularly been untimely and incomplete.

Net4 is now in the unprecedented position of being subject to two different breach notices simultaneously.

ICANN actually issued a suspension notice in June 2019, after noticing that Net4 had been in insolvency proceedings for two years — a debt recovery agency is trying to recover $28 million in unpaid debts.

But that suspension deadline was paused after talks with the “resolution professional” handling the insolvency case, for reasons ICANN’s been rather quiet about, and it remains on pause to this date.

The newest breach notice has a December 31 deadline on it. Unless Net4 turns on its Whois and hands over the reams of requested data by then, ICANN could terminate its contract.

Assuming the insolvency court allows it to, presumably.

Radix releases huge amount of premium domain data

Radix made $1,360,865 from premium domain names in its portfolio of new gTLDs in the first half of the year, according to the company’s latest report.

The company said that $522,365 of that came from new registrations — there were 619 in total — with the balance of $838,500 coming from renewals.

Radix is one of the registries that charges a premium fee every year over the life of the registration.

Because of this, its first-year renewal rates for premiums are not fantastic — just 54% of names registered in the first half of 2018 were renewed a year later.

But older premiums renewed at a more-than-respectable 78%, comparable to peak-.com, according to the Radix report.

.store and .online accounted for about half of renewal revenue.

.online and .tech accounted for more than half of new registration revenue.

GoDaddy sold 41.6% of all the names moved in the half.

For Radix, a premium domain is anything priced at $100 or above. That’s lower than some gTLDs’ base non-premium fee.

It sold three names at $10,000 during the period.

MMX waving goodbye to .london? Boss puts focus on renewal profits, China

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2018, Domain Registries

MMX’s revenue from domain renewals could cover all of its expenses within the next 24 months, if everything goes to plan, according to CEO Toby Hall.

Hall was speaking to DI this evening after the company reported its first-half financial results, which saw revenue up 22% to $6.4 million and a net loss of $14.7 million, which compared to a loss of $526,000 a year earlier.

MMX’s huge loss for the period was largely — to the tune of $11.8 million — attributable to the restructuring of an “onerous” contract with one of its gTLD partners.

Hall refuses point blank to name that partner, but for reasons I discussed last year, I believe it is .london sponsor London & Partners, which is affiliated with the office of the Mayor of London.

When L&P selected MMX to be its registry partner for .london back in 2012, I understand a key reason was MMX’s promise to pay L&P a fixed annual fee and commit to a certain amount of marketing spend.

But two years ago, after it became clear that .london sales were coming in waaaay below previous management’s expectations, MMX renegotiated the deal.

Under the new deal, instead of committing to spend $10.8 million on marketing the TLD itself, MMX agreed to give half that amount to L&P for L&P to do its own marketing.

It appears that L&P has already spunked much of that cash ineffectively, or, as MMX put it:

a significant portion of that marketing budget has been spent by the partner with minimal impact on revenues in the current year and no expectation of any material uplift in future periods

MMX seems to have basically written off the .london deal as a bad call, and now that MMX is no longer in the registry back-end or registrar businesses, it seems unlikely that the .london partnership will be extended when it expires in three years.

Again, Hall would not confirm this bad contract was for .london — I’m making an informed guess — but the alternatives are limited. The only other TLDs MMX runs in partnership currently are .review and .country, and not even 2012 MMX management would have bet the farm on those turkeys.

Another $2.1 million of the company’s H1 net loss is for “bad debt provisions” relating the possibility that certain US-based registrar partners may not pay their dues, but this provision is apparently related to a new accounting standard rather than known deadbeats threatening to withhold payments.

If you throw aside all of this accountancy and look at the “operating EBITDA” line, profit was up 176% to $661,000 compared to H1 2017.

While the loss may have cast a cloud over the first half, Hall is upbeat about MMX’s prospects, and it’s all about the renewals.

“Renewal revenue will be more than all the costs of business within 24 months,” he said. To get there, it needs to cross the $12 million mark.

He told DI tonight that “an increasing percentage of our business is based on renewals… just on renewal revenue alone we’ll be over $10 million this year”.

Renewal revenue was $4.7 million in 2017 and $2.4 million in 2016, he said. In the first half, it was was up 40% to $3.4 million.

MMX’s acquisition of porn domain specialist ICM Registry, which has renewal fees of over $60 per year, will certainly help the company towards its 2018 goal in the second half. ICM only contributed two weeks of revenue — $250,000 — in H1.

Remarkably, and somewhat counter-intuitively, the company is also seeing renewal strength in China.

Its .vip gTLD, which sells almost exclusively in China, saw extremely respectable renewals of 76% in the first half, which runs against the conventional wisdom that China is a volatile market

Hall said that .vip renewals run in the $5 to $10 range, so apparently TLD volume is not being propped up by cheap wholesale renewal fees. The TLD accounts for about 30% of MMX’s renewal revenue, Hall said.

About 60% of .vip’s domains under management are with Chinese registrar Alibaba. The biggest non-Chinese registrar is GoDaddy, with about 3% of the namespace.

More exposure to China, and specifically Alibaba, is expected to come soon due to MMX’s repurposing of the 2012-logic gTLD .luxe, which is being integrated into the Ethereum blockchain.

MMX said last week that some six million (mostly Chinese) users of the imToken Ethereum wallet will in November get the ability to register .luxe domains via imToken and easily integrate them with their Ethereum assets.

The announcement was made at the Alibaba Cloud Computing Conference in China last week, so you can probably guess imToken’s registrar of choice.

Radix claims 77% renewal rates after two years

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2017, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry Radix says that three of its larger TLDs have seen a 77% renewal rate two years after launch.

The company said today that .online had 75% renewals, with .tech at 78% and .site at 81%.

It appears to have carved out these three from its portfolio for attention, ignoring the rest of its portfolio, because they all went to general availability in the same two-month period July and August 2015.

The renewal rates are for the first month of GA. In other words, 77% of the domains registered in the TLDs’ respective first month have been renewed for a third year.

Radix, in a press release, compared the numbers favorably to .com and .net, which had a combined renewal rate of 74% in the second quarter according to Verisign’s published numbers.

It’s probably not a fully fair apples-to-apples comparison. Domains registered in the first month of GA are likely higher-quality names registered by in-the-know early adopters, and therefore less likely to be dropped, whereas .com and .net have decades of renewal cycles behind them.

Radix also said that 86% of domains registered during the three TLDs’ sunrise periods and Early Access Periods are still being renewed, with .tech at 92% and .site at 88%.

MMX says .vip renewals to be at 70%+

MMX believes the biggest money-spinner in its new gTLD portfolio, .vip, will see first-year renewals in excess of 70%.

The company said this morning that it is projecting renewals towards the top end of industry norms based on manual renewals to date.

.vip was a bit of a hit in China, topping a quarter-million domains in its first month of general availability a year ago. It peaked at around 750,000 domains a month ago.

MMX said in a statement:

To date, actual deletions for the first 31 days of registrations for .vip from China are currently less than 1%, with manually confirmed renewals for the same period already at over 60%, with the remainder being placed on auto-renew by registrars on behalf of their customers.

Whilst not all of those placed on auto-renew will be renewed, MMX expects the overall renewal rate for the first month of .vip registrations, which will be published in late July, to place .vip in-line with the best-in-class renewal rates of leading western facing top-level domains (i.e. c. 70% and above).

While MMX has made much of the fact that it has not sold .vip names for almost nothing, unlike some competitors, they’re still pretty cheap in China.

.vip names sell for the CNY equivalent of $3 to $4 at the major Chinese registrars. GoDaddy prices them at $20.

CEO Toby Hall said that there had been some volume-based discounts available to registrars, but “nothing which took the pricing below our general availability pricing”.

Its actual renewal rate will become clear at the end of July, MMX said.

Rightside new gTLD renewals can top 80%

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2016, Domain Registries

Rightside says it is seeing encouraging renewal figures from its oldest batch of new gTLDs.

The company this week revealed that renewals after two years of ownership on average stand at 81%.

In a blog post, Rightside broke out some numbers for .dance, .democrat, .ninja, .immobilien, .social, .reviews and .futbol.

Those seven are the only ones in its portfolio to have gone through two full renewal cycles.

The renewal rate after year one was a modest 69% — in other words it lost almost a third of its installed base after 12 months — but this increased to 81% after the second year.

The actual number of domains involved in quite tiny — 81% equates to just 21,000 names across all seven TLDs.

Breaking out a couple of TLDs, Rightside wrote:

Our first gTLD to market, .DANCE, saw a 70% renewal rate in year one expand to 83% in year two for that same subset of domains. Our best performing gTLD of the seven is .IMMOBILIEN, which renewed at 83% in its first year, and grew to a stupendous 87% in its second—which certainly makes sense given the permanent nature of real estate.

But Rightside reckons the numbers reflect well on the new gTLD industry. It said:

domain investors with portfolios including new gTLDs recognize the long-term value of these domain names, and rather than let them drop after the first year, are holding onto them to find the right buyer continue to earn parking revenue. Second—and likely the more significant driver—is that end users are actually picking up these domain names and putting them to use.

West.cn to prop up .xyz renewals with $1.5 million subsidy

Leading Chinese registrar West.cn has said it will subsidize .xyz renewals to the tune of $1.5 million.

According to a West.cn press release, CEO He Xiaojiang made the announcement alongside XYZ.com counterpart Daniel Negari at meeting in Beijing on Friday.

The registrar’s .xyz customers “are going to get high rebate back from West.cn so that they can get very low renewal fees”, according to a translation of the original Chinese.

The subsidized renewal price, which starts in June, will be RMB 18 ($2.73), according to the company.

That’s about a $7 discount on West.cn’s usual renewal price of RMB 64.

First-year .xyz prices at the registrar are currently RMB 8 ($1.22).

West.cn is believed to have well over a million .xyz domains on its books. With over a third market share, it’s XYZ.com’s biggest registrar.

The press release points out that West.cn is not getting a special rate from XYZ (which would be against ICANN rules).

Negari declined to elaborate on the specifics of the subsidy.

But in what is no doubt a related move, he told DomainInvesting.com yesterday that XYZ has “reserved several million dollars to be spent with registrars and on advertising platforms for our 2 year anniversary”.

This ad spend will be made over the month of June, he said, to coincide with the June 2, 2014 general availability launch of .xyz.

Fifty registrars are participating, he said, calling it the “biggest sale” the industry has seen.

Whether through heavily discounted renewals or bargain first-year regs, it seems the company is set on making sure its DUM volume does not dip as its anniversary approaches.

It’s not unusual for registries to do special offers to coincide with launch birthdays.

.xyz currently has about 2.8 million registered domains, but about 1.8 million of those were registered after June 2015 and are not in need of renewal before the promotion period expires (though registrants can of course renew whenever they like).

Rightside offers $10 renewals on premium names

Rightside is to run a promotion that will discount renewals on premium names down to .com prices.

From May 16 to June 30, if you buy any of the domains that Rightside has marked as premium — except the super-premium “Platinum” names — the wholesale renewal fee will be just $10.

Registrars will mark this up according to their own pricing models.

Normally, the price you pay at the checkout is the price you pay every year after that.

The deal is overtly targeted at domainers.

Rightside said: “At these reduced prices, you’ll have more time to find the right buyer for any domains you register, and incur lower fees to transfer to them once you do. If you’re looking to add high-quality domains to your portfolio, this will be the time to do it.”

The reduced renewals only apply to names registered during the six-week window, but they do pass on to subsequent registrants if the domain is sold.

Rightside is calling it a “first-of-its-kind” promo, but in reality it’s just a temporary regression to the once-standard industry model.

Remember, prior to the 2012-round gTLDs, only exceptions like .tv charged premium rates for renewals.

Premium renewals are now very commonplace, but are by no means the rule, in the new gTLD industry.

For Rightside, the offer means the company may experience a brief cash windfall as domainers, who generally hate premium renewals, take a chance on the registry’s names.

There’s also a potential marketing benefit to be gained from having more domainers on board as unpaid salespeople.

But it does rather suggest the premiums are not flying off the shelves at the rate Rightside wants.

The company recently disclosed that in the first few months of the year it made revenue of $674,610 selling 1,820 premium names, leading to an average price of $372. Twelve five-figure names had been sold.

Over its portfolio of 39 gTLDs, Rightside has flagged over 964,000 as premium, or about 25,000 per TLD.

.guru renewals at 63%

Ten days into its series of renewal rate disclosures, Donuts has revealed that .guru’s rate currently stands at 63.4%.

In a blog post yesterday, COO Richard Tindal said that the registry’s overall renewal figure for the first 81,569 domains it sold was 68.4%.

The other two large TLDs in the batch — .photography and .clothing — came in at 75.7% and 74.0%, respectively.

.guru was the first new gTLD to launch in English that did not refer to a specific niche vertical. As such, it took the lion’s share of the early new gTLD speculation money.

We’re looking at a typical junk drop, in other words.

Over 10,000 names have been deleted from the .guru zone file since it peaked at over 80,000 names on February 28, as this DI PRO chart shows.

Tindal wrote that he expects the numbers to improve over time:

In March and April we expect the cumulative rate on all Donuts names to stabilize around 70%, and then trend upwards toward 80% as the average age of registrations increases and the proportion of names with website content continues to grow.

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